Tuesday, July 25, 2017

AFTER THE FOX reviewed

Peter Sellers as film director Federico Fabrizi in AFTER THE FOX.

Caccia alla volpe
1966, Kino Lorber, 2.35:1, 103m (BD Region A)

I suppose I could blame the fox hunting sequence in 1965's CASINO ROYALE for this, but I put off the great pleasure of making this film's acquaintance for decades because it looked from a distance like yet another out-of-control farce, with aging stars having much more fun than I would, running like geese around Europe to more woozily gallivanting Burt Bacharach cues. Mamma mia, was I wrong. This might be one of the best and funniest movies about the misadventure of making movies around, but it has the added bonus of specifically lampooning Italian film production - just as a new set of laws were falling into place that would bring an end to US/Italian studio collaborations almost overnight.

Neil Simon's first original screenplay posits Peter Sellers in the role of Aldo Vanucci, a.k.a. The Fox, a Fantômas-like master criminal (and master of disguise) serving an interminable prison sentence, who suddenly and brilliantly escapes from his cell when he learns from his visiting gang the not-quite-accurate but inflammatory news that his younger sister (a brunette Britt Ekland) is now walking the streets as a prostitute. After much disguised misadventure (allowing Sellers plentiful opportunity to parade his many faces), he discovers that his delectable sibling is only playing a prostitute in her first movie role. When Vanucci sees the complete deference paid to filmmakers by the general public, and particularly by the police, he realizes that he has been going about the criminal life entirely wrong. Hearing that billions in gold bricks are being transported from Cairo to a small village in rural Italy, he realizes at once how to mastermind the biggest heist of The Fox's career: by posing as an intellectual film director.

Enter "Federico Fabrizi," who uses his self-professed ability to "have ideas" to BS his way through any barrier, including the protective agent (Martin Balsam) of aging Hollywood star Tony Powell (Victor Mature in a somewhat meta role that paves the way to his appearance in HEAD, two years later). Seeing  Fabrizi as a rescue from an early retirement, he eagerly accepts the opportunity to work opposite that new Italian sensation (Vanucci's sister) - the hilariously named "Gina Romantica" - and finds himself being asked to do things like run around without apparent objective because, after all, are we not all running around, never knowing what we are doing? And he loves it! Loves it! Mature's largely untapped gift for comedy, and his robust willingness to parody himself, are only two of the film's many points of appeal.

The great de Sica directing the great faux Fabrizi.

Director Vittorio de Sica seems to have had the rare ability to rein in Sellers' frequent excesses to just the right measure to make him charming, elegant, and devastatingly funny. (They would work together only once more, in the following year's portmanteau film WOMAN TIMES SEVEN.) De Sica also appears as himself in a scene that one imagines could have inspired Francis Coppola's appearance in APOCALYPSE NOW) and a superb supporting cast that includes Paolo Stoppa, Lydia Brazzi, and the infallible Akim Tamiroff - in a fez, no less.

Kino's presentation is bright and colorful, conveying a welcome nostalgic sense of what it was like to see these big continental romps on their opening engagements. Aside from the main theme song (by The Hollies and Bacharach), which is far from the best thing either of them did, I find Bacharach's score even more inventive than his celebrated work for CASINO ROYALE, though very much in the same vein. There is no subtitle option. Extras are limited to an original trailer, viewable with Trailers From Hell commentary by screenwriter Larry Karaszewski (a big fan of the movie) and trailers for other Peter Sellers titles available from Kino.     

(c) 2017 by Tim Lucas. All rights reserved.

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